Elena Rybakina, Kazakhstan’s top tennis player, made it to the Forbes’s 30 Under 30 Asia list, cementing her position as one of the most outstanding young athletes in the Asia-Pacific region. The tennis star rose to the 4th place in the world’s tennis rankings after winning the Italian Open Tournament in Rome on May 20.
The list features 300 young entrepreneurs, leaders and trailblazers across the region, all under the age of 30, who are effecting positive change and driving innovation amid global economic uncertainty and a challenging environment.
Rybakina was one of the 30 notable honorees selected for the Entertainment & Sports category, Forbes reported in a statement. The list features a total of 10 categories, each represented by 30 honorees. More than 4,000 candidates were evaluated by the Forbes Asia team and a panel of expert judges on a variety of factors, including funding and/or revenue, social impact, inventiveness, and potential.
Rybakina became the first Kazakhstani player to win a major tennis title when she secured victory at the Wimbledon tournament in July 2022. On Saturday she has won her second WTA 1000 title at the 2023 Italian Open in Rome after defeating Angelina Kalinina in the final match. In March this year, she has won her first WTA 1000 title at the Indian Wells tournament where she has sealed victory in the final match over then world’s No. 2 Arina Sabalenka of Belarus.
In the beginning of this year, the 23-year-old tennis star donated part of her income from the matches to junior tennis players and to dog-rescue program in Kazakhstan.
ASTANA, Kazakhstan, May 15, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — For the first time in the country’s history, the Kazakhstan Junior Boys and Girls Tennis Teams made it to the 16 and under World Championship Finals. The finals will be held in the Autumn in Cordoba, Spain, where the girls will compete in the Junior Billie Jean King Cup and the boys in the Junior Davis Cup.
The Asia Oceania Qualifying events were held in Kazakhstan for the first time in the Beeline Tennis Center in Shymkent. The boys and girls teams performed exceptionally against some very strong tennis nations. The girls team first beat Chinese Taipei in the quarter finals and followed this with a milestone win against Australia, five-time Junior Billie Jean King champions. The team lost only to Japan 2-1 in a hard-fought final match decided by the doubles. The Kazakh boys team fought their way through a tough group beating Uzbekistan, Chinese Taipei, and New Zealand to qualify for the quarter finals where they beat six-time champions, Australia, 2-0 to qualify for the World Finals.
“Congratulations to our boys and girls and to the captains for making it to the World finals of these flagship ITF junior team events for the first time. This is an incredible achievement, reflecting on all of the hard work of our young players and their coaches and the KTF player development team”. Bulat Utemuratov also noted; “This success of the junior national teams, shows how much the level of tennis has improved and provides the motivation for KTF to continue investing in the development of tennis in Kazakhstan. It inspires our younger players to keep practicing and striving for international success”.
The up-and-coming stars on Kazakhstan’s girls junior team were Ariana Gogulina, Polina Sleptsova, and Anastasia Krymkova. The boys team included Amir Omarkhanov, Zangar Nurlanuly, and Damir Zhalgasbay. The captains of the teams were Yaroslava Shvedova, former Grand Slam Champion, and top coach Sergey Kvak. The National Teams to participate in the World Championship Finals will be announced by KTF in September.
The Junior Billie Jean King Cup and the Junior Davis Cup, organized annually by the International Tennis Federation, are the most important international team competitions for tennis players aged 16 and under.
May 5, 2023 – ‘Bulat Utemuratov Foundation’ celebrated global Autism Awareness Month in Kazakhstan with an innovative hybrid communication campaign and an inspiring level of engagement. From digital street boards to photo exhibitions in public spaces and other original events, the Foundation contributed to the global effort to raise autism awareness.
“In 2022, there were 12,087 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in Kazakhstan. Like people without a diagnosis, people with ASD have strengths, weaknesses, and unique talents. Our mission is to help them cultivate and manage those qualities so that they can actively participate in society and lead fulfilling lives,” said Dr. Almaz Sharman, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Bulat Utemuratov Foundation.
The Foundation kicked off its autism awareness campaign by inaugurating its 12th and largest autism center in Astana, which will have the capacity to host 900 children per year. The Asyl Miras Autism Centers provide early intervention programs for children with autism up to 18 years of age. Over 15,000 children have received help as part of the program since 2015.
Additionally, Bulat Utemuratov Foundation organized a photo exhibition in a mall in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, offering visitors a closer look at the lives of children with ASD. The Foundation also teamed up with the urban innovation company Citix to set up smartboards in Almaty and Astana streets that provide information on autism symptoms, and advice for parents.
Online, the Foundation ran a series of interviews with autism experts that were published on social media, debunking myths about autism and sharing ways in which society can become more inclusive.
With the aim of raising awareness about autism and promoting an inclusive culture, the Foundation hosts the annual “Autism. The World of Opportunities” international conference in Almaty. In 2022, world-renowned experts like Connie Kasari and Stephen Shore took part in the conference. In April 2023, the Foundation shared its experience in implementing evidence-based practices in autism centers in Kazakhstan at the International Conference for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ICAN) in Dubai. To advance global knowledge about autism, the Foundation also supported this year’s Annual Meeting of INSAR (International Society for Autism Research) in Stockholm.
Bulat Utemuratov – a former diplomat, businessman, philanthropist and the current President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation – on Kazakhstan’s tennis boom and how they are paying it forward by changing lives for the better.
Every sport has its reputation. Many in the world share the view that tennis is a sport for the wealthy. You might think so too, especially if you were raised in the Soviet Union, like I was. Today, however, we can seriously argue against this.
It’s important to look at tennis from different angles. It’s true that it was once a sport exclusively for the wealthy and is associated with significant financial expenses when it comes to training, infrastructure, court fees, etc. Often these expenses fall on the shoulders of individual tennis players or on families whose children want to play professional tennis. There has typically been a gap between those who want to play, whether for leisure or to reach the professional summit, and those who can afford to do so.
On the other hand, however, this situation is gradually changing. Countries are employing different approaches to fill the accessibility gap from state subsidies to corporate sponsorships. The United States, for example is known for raising private capital, while Norway is known for its government funding. The UK’s LTA also released its inclusion strategy in 2021 in an effort to make tennis more diverse and accessible.
New countries are appearing on the tennis map, and Kazakhstan, which hosted the ATP500 tournament in 2022, has joined the ranks. Many wonder how Kazakhstan, a country with no tennis heritage, managed to become a tennis capital in the time span of a decade? The answer lies in social inclusion.
The price of one hour of tennis in Kazakhstan today is just under $10. A month’s worth of tennis classes is cheaper than ballet or gymnastics, but getting there wasn’t easy. We had to do a lot to make tennis an accessible sport.
While the Soviet Union provided generous funding for athleticism, tennis was not a priority recipient. By the time Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991, tennis was practically nonexistent in the country. To make matters worse, in the 1990’s one hour of tennis in Kazakhstan cost approximately $50 while the gross average monthly wage at the time was equivalent to $100.
Fortunately, Kazakhstan managed to become one of the most advanced post-Soviet economies, but despite this achievement, by 2007, our tennis federation was experiencing severe crisis. We sought every opportunity we could to turn the situation around.
Since 2007, around $250 million state and private investments have gone into building infrastructure, launching tennis programs for kids, and supporting talent within and beyond borders.
We’ve achieved a fivefold increase in the number of tennis courts, which are now enjoyed by 33,000 children and adults on average, compared to less than 2,000 players a little over a decade ago. The increase in players is a direct result of making tennis more affordable, more popular, and more inclusive.
We created an accessible platform to nurture professional tennis players. Team Kazakhstan is Kazakhstan’s first fully funded tennis school providing training, accommodation, meals, and education for junior players. As a result, 2022 marked the first year that Kazakhstan participated in the ITF’s junior events like the Junior Davis Cup and the Junior Billie Jean Cup. With our unending support and their relentless determination, we turned tennis fans into world class champions.
Kazakhstan is a multi-ethnic country that provides opportunity for its own nationals, as well as for international players who have chosen to represent Kazakhstan abroad. Last year, Elena Rybakina, who also made it to the 2023 Australian Open finals and rose to world No 7 on the WTA Ranking after her win at Indian Wells WTA 1000, was the first Kazakhstani player to win a Wimbledon trophy, and we bet she won’t be the last. Rybakina paid it forward: she decided to allocate a portion of her $100,000 prize money to support junior players and to help relieve animal homelessness. When she was offered an award from the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, she turned it down, requesting that it be reinvested in support of future players.
When it comes to future players, KTF does not believe in limits. In 2022, we organized our first national wheelchair tennis championship, and inclusion doesn’t stop at the tennis court.
During the latest ATP500, which was held in Kazakhstan for the first time, tennis stars Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev and Felix Auger-Aliassime spent a day with the children at the Asyl Miras Autism Center in Astana.
By fostering connections between sport and autism, we aim to turn sport and tennis in particular, into a tool for social inclusion for those who face difficulty integrating in our society.
Kazakhstan has seen a real tennis boom in recent years, and we plan to keep going in that direction. Ultimately, it is not simply access to a tennis court that makes tennis more inclusive. It’s about something greater: our common aspiration to change lives for the better, open-mindedness, willingness to help those who are seeking for help, and values that we think are important and adhere to no matter what.